Every year I take a few days off around the holidays, and my brain uses every scrap of free time it gets to fill up with a thousand hopeful resolutions for the year to come.
This is energizing and a little sad, since I have never, ever enjoyed a year of being like “Good job, you! Nothing to fix here. Relax.”
This year I started to scribble my goals on the whiteboard I keep in our kitchen (placed there in an attempt to capture as many of my hyper thoughts as possible). It looked something like this:
- Learn to cook!
- Send birthday cards ON TIME.
- Get back into a
- Train June not to pull leash.
- 8PM bedtime for boys.
- 10x organic traffic to blog.
- 2x productivity at work.
- 20 pushups.
- Surf more.
- Finish novel.
Then my 1-year-old toddled in.
He held up a lunchbox he uses to store his valuables. I dropped straight to the floor and showed him how to work the latch for the millionth time.
We spent the next 20 minutes in a game that has shifty rules at best, but involves placing objects in the lunchbox, taking them out, and sometimes pretending to eat them. Objects include a baby hairbrush, a Weeble dragon, and my old driver’s license.
I glanced up at the whiteboard more than once during our game. Then I hated myself for not just appreciating this moment.
Why Goal-Setting is a Paradox
Goal-setting is a constant paradox for me. I want to drive hard to achieve my dreams, but I can get so engrossed in them—and how far I am from getting to them—that I fail to appreciate my life.
I have a beautiful crazy family, multiple pets, a house that fits us all comfortably, a job I love, close friends…all the things. And yet, I am always reaching for more. In theory this is fine. This is a healthy life.
The problem starts when I’m on my hypothetical tippy-toes, reaching for my dreams, and aware of how far I still have to go. I’m left feeling inadequate in the midst of an embarrassing amount of good fortune.
I don’t want to dampen my own drive to achieve, or limit my goals. I also don’t want to take my life for granted just because, for instance, my dog, June, is 6-years-old now and I have never managed to teach her to walk on her leash without pulling like she’s trying out for the Iditarod.
Why the “Start Small Mindset” Works
This year I’m out to stay driven, achieve my goals, and appreciate what I have. I’m sharing my new method for goal-getting with anyone who feels a similar internal struggle.
I call it the “Start Small Mindset.”
This approach could be likened to Dave Ramsey’s Debt Snowball Method, but for career and life goals.
In Dave’s world, you treat your debt like a small snowball that you pack, and then roll through the yard, making it larger as it gains momentum. He says to start by paying off your smallest debt first, until it’s out of your life, to build hope, and then move on to the next smallest. With each win, you gain more confidence to save, earn, and get out of debt.
Mathematically, this is not always the most efficient way to pay off debt. But psychologically, it works wonders.
Start Small By Using (and Appreciating) What You Already Have
I made the connection to achieving big goals through starting small, when reading the book Spend Shift.
It documents how different cities recovered after the 2008 recession by putting the “love thy neighbor” rule into action.
People who’d been laid off from corporate jobs looked around them and got to work locally, opening shops, consulting, volunteering in order to make more intimate, deep, and rooted networking connections, and undergoing a strong shift in values that came less from the urge to get ahead, and more from the urge to help those around them.
Combining these two ideas, I started to see how it might be possible to take in everything around me, in my current, wonderful, imperfect life, and use it as a way to move towards my bigger goals.
Here’s how it works.
How Does the “Start Small Mindset” Work?
- List your BIG BOLD GOALS and resolutions.
- Under each one, list a way you can start small, by changing something in your home, routine, neighborhood, or current job. Make it as specific as possible.
- Each time you cross off a small step, add a new one.
How Am I Starting Small?
Here are some examples from my world:
- Cook gourmet plant-based meals for family.
- Teach June to walk nicely on-leash.
- 10x organic traffic to this blog.
- Try one new plant-based dish every 3rd Saturday of the month.
- Buy a resealable treat container and keep it filled, next to the leash. Now I will always at least have the means to train June when we walk.
- Ask our neighbor’s teenaged daughter to come over and babysit on Saturday mornings, to free up more writing time.
In each case I’m leveraging a routine or relationship I already have in place and seeing how I can improve or deepen it. I’m not going to ignore my life in order to get ahead, I’m going to embrace it.
If you have more ideas for starting small, please share!